James Whitmore / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images
“I was in a funny position. Actually, that’s the only way it could be. People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up in one way or another. They thought I couldn’t take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise, not only to the people who were wondering, but to myself”.
20. The next day he would leave Germany with Priscilla.
ESPN featured this video of Carlos Vela of the Spanish football team Real Sociedad performing an epic bicycle kick goal against Malaga. His technique is straight out of the sweet soccer movies handbook.
English soccer player Jamie O’Hara has quit Twitter after fans attacked him over asinine tweets whining about his huge salary and charitable obligations.
O’Hara’s tweet that incited fans most bemoaned the added stresses of professional soccer compared to his carefree days as a youth player, reading: “Things were so much easier when I earned 100pound a week on wts #stress.”
O’Hara now earns a £35,000 — or $56,000 — per week for the English soccer club Wolverhampton Wanderers. And he had more to educate his 175,000 followers about.
“Why do people think cos I earn good money I don’t have bills to pay we all pay tax an we have mortgages to pay, some people are deluded,” he wrote in one tweet.
That was followed by: “I wonder how many people are doing hospital visits this Xmas or giving clothing to the homeless this winter, or setting up a charity to raise money for hospitals.”
Predictably, fans and followers were quick to jump all over O’Hara for his posts, berating him for griping about earning more in one week than many people do in a year.
After the backlash, O’Hara announced that he was done on Twitter and his profile page now returns an error message.
Before shutting things down, O’Hara said the social network has “too many trolls on here with nothing nice to say.” Sports trolls have become an increasingly serious problem in the Twitter world, with many players receiving harsh abuse and even death threats after mistakes during competition. In this case, however, it’s not quite clear who was trolling who.
Gay rights activists carry rainbow flags as they march during a May Day rally in St. Petersburg, Russia, on May 1, 2013.
Image: Dmitry Lovetsky, File/Associated Press
More than a week after the 2014 Winter Olympics closing ceremony, the world’s attention has shifted 300 miles north from Sochi to the Crimean peninsula, where Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s fledgling new government continue to teeter on the brink of war.
The escalating situation there has deflected conversation from what, just two weeks ago, was the world’s hottest Russia-related political topic: The current government’s record on gay rights. Many activists found it offensive that the Olympics were held in such a repressive country, but they also saw it as an opportunity. Could the games in Sochi become a pivotal moment for Russia’s LGBT community?
“The IOC Played The Staring Game With The LGBT Movement — And Won,” read BuzzFeed‘s headline just days after the closing ceremony on Feb. 26. “We failed in Sochi because we didn’t risk a thing,” said the same day’s headline on Outsports, a well-respected site for its coverage of LGBT issues in sports.
But gay rights activists who spoke with Mashable painted a more nuanced picture than those headlines. They say that, for all the things that didn’t change because of Sochi, plenty of victories can be counted — and used to build momentum toward helping gays in the countries that treat them worst.
“No, the IOC has not changed its policies, and, no, Putin has not changed his policies,” says Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Arcus Foundation, which which works to advance LGBT issues worldwide. “But it was a qualified success in the sense that, if our goal was for LGBT issues to not be swept under the rug and for the world to take notice, we did accomplish that.”
Activist arrested to start the Olympics
On Feb. 7, the day of the games’ opening ceremony, four gay rights activists were arrested in St. Petersburg under Russia’s controversial anti-“propaganda” law. Their crime: holding a banner quoting the Olympic Charter’s ban on discrimination of any kind.
Every time Jennings thought of watching Olympic events back stateside, he couldn’t bring himself to do so after remembering his Russian comrades who were arrested for that banner. But he did take cold comfort in the fact that the Feb. 7 arrest generated worldwide press coverage — just as he and others saw progress in Putin’s widely mocked insistence that gays were welcome at the Olympics as long as they “left kids alone.”
“I was talking to [author and activist] David Mixner about this, and he said, ‘We made one of the most powerful men in the world react to us,'” Jennings says. “A world leader like Putin, with his level of power? Fifteen years ago, he would have just laughed at us and wouldn’t have felt a need to defend or rationalize anything.”
Jennings’ Arcus Foundation backs the Russia Freedom Fund, which solicits donations that are sent directly to LGBT activists and allies in Russia. He says the fund has raised more than $500,000 over the past several months, thanks in large part to attention brought by the Sochi Olympics.
For many in Sochi, the line between opposition and celebration seemed hard to decipher. Before an Italian transgender activist was booted from the Olympic Park on Feb. 18, many mistook her for a clown because of her rainbow-themed clothing, the AP reported.
Moments like that — and the bombastic rainbow opening ceremony outfits that the German Olympians wore — were a “constant reminder that this was there, even if the people who organized the games didn’t want it to be,” says Dustin Lance Black, screenwriter for the film Milk and cofounder of Uprising of Love, an organization that works to support gay Russians.
“With LGBT issues and frankly, any civil rights issues, awareness and visibility are most important,” Black says. “Creating equality is about creating understanding. That only starts to happen when there’s a light shined on an issue. Of course there were missed opportunities in Sochi, but here the Olympics provided that light that’s needed.”
Many dangers persist for gays Russia
The unique challenges LGBT people faced in Russia existed long before the Olympics, and they’ll continue to persist long after the Paralympics end on March 16. No one doubts any of that.
But outrage over the obstacles they met reached a crescendo on June 30, 2013, when Putin signed into law a piece of legislation “propaganda of nontraditional sexual practices” that could in any conceivable way be seen by people under age 18.
It’s not an outright ban on homosexuality, but its hazy definition of “propaganda” helps the law essentially ban any positive discussion of gay life or gay rights in public forums such as schools or the media. It’s the law that was used to arrest the activists on the day of the Olympics’ opening ceremony.
It’s also the reason the Russian Open Games had to put this disclaimer on its otherwise innocuous website.
The Russian Open Games were a multi-day jamboree for international gay athletes and their supporters in Moscow, held between the Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi. Challenges of the Open Games underscore the harsh climate that remains in Russia despite the incremental victories activists cite from Sochi.
The day before the Open Games were scheduled to begin, four sports venues and a Hilton hotel abruptly backed out of agreements to host events. Open Games organizers are convinced they did so under official pressure. The next day, a bomb threat was called into the gay nightclub that was supposed to host the Open Games opening ceremony. The following day, a morning smoke bomb attack at one venue canceled swimming and basketball competitions.
Nonetheless, Open Games activists and organizers pressed on and the event was completed March 2.
So now what happens?
Black, Jennings and others do count some victories from the two-week Winter Olympics, but they’re also clear on something else.
“That [closing ceremony] moment when the Olympic flame was extinguished was the moment our real work began,” Black says.
So, just what is the “real work” that comes next? Black and Jennings say keeping attention on the situation in Russia, whether through consistent press coverage or celebrity statements, is one key. Direct support is another.
If you’re an LGBT person or ally, Black and Jennings say, consider spending your next vacation in Russia working alongside gay rights activists there. If you can’t go, they recommend sending money through the Russia Freedom Fund or other channels. And if Sochi ticks you off but you’d rather spend of some of that energy elsewhere, they’re quick to remind that homosexuality is still a crime in more than 75 countries.
“We had this big, bright flame with the Olympics,” Black says. “Now we have to keep the attention on Russia and other places where LGBT equality is even further behind now that that flame is gone. We have to fill that void with our light and our truth.”
It’s highly likely much of the controversy surround gay rights and Sochi will play out again, at other lionized global sporting events. The 2014 World Cup kicks off this June in Brazil, where LGBT people live largely free of official harassment. But the 2018 World Cup returns to — you guessed it — Russia. Then the 2022 World Cup happens in Qatar, where homosexual acts are illegal.
At least one prominent soccer player has already spoken out against those host countries, and bitterness is sure to intensify. Knowing the bureaucratic, logistical and financial challenges of staging events of this scale, however, it’s all but impossible they get moved.
But what does remains to be seen is what type of bigger world the Russia and Qatar cups take place in four and eight years down the line — as well as which countries will be selected to host subsequent Olympic-sized events. Those outcomes, more than any pronouncement we’ve seen this year, will be the true test of whether Sochi was a success or failure for the gay rights movement.